Karel van Rossum: Zwarte Piet


For some years now, the discussion about black Pete is waging in the Netherlands. You might have heard of it: it got a lot of international coverage and even the UN got itself involved in it. But what is it really about?

Crash Course

Lets start at the beginning: black Pete is a figure that is part of the Dutch festivities of Sinterklaas. Black Pete is a character in brightly colored old fashioned clothes, say- 18th century about, with a black face, red lips, golden earrings and curly hair. He is the helper of Sinterklaas, who is the local adaption of Saint-Nicholas, the Byzantine bishop, who was among things famous for rescuing children. The Dutch festivities focus around children, comparable to Christmas. Sinterklaas arrives on the 18th of October on a steamship with his helpers to bring presents to all the good children of the Netherlands. Every day until the 5th of December, they put their shoe next to the chimney (or in modern times usually the door or even the heater), put a drawing in it or a carrot (for the horse of Sinterklaas which he uses to ride around on the roofs) and when they wake up the next day there will be a small gift or a treat in it for them (for hygienic reasons usually wrapped in a bag). Traditionally, the bad children would be put in jute bags and taken to Spain, where Saint-Nicholas for some reason resides when he is not in the Netherlands, or alternatively, they get whipped by black Pete. Whose naughty and whose nice is something Sinterklaas keeps in his big book- sounds familiar?

It should, because Dutch Colonists brought the tradition from the Netherlands to the New World, where it eventually merged with other European traditions and developed into Santa Claus, whose popularity is now spreading globally thanks to globalism. There is a certain irony in it- because Sinterklaas in recent years has been dropped by some Dutch families for an earlier Christmas. You could say he is being replaced by a cheap American version of himself. Because of the discussion around black Pete- we’ll get to that later- Dutch families are now skipping Sinterklaas and celebrating Halloween or start with Christmas earlier.

The discussion

In December 2010 Quincy Gario, a failed performance artist who produces nothing of value, decided that it was time to change the festivities because he thought it was racist. He sees black Pete as a racist stereotype of a black slave with a white master. He produced a t-shirt that said: “zwarte piet is racisme” (black Pete is racist), and went to the arrival of Sinterklaas. He got pepper sprayed and arrested, prompting the discussion he hoped for. Ever since that moment, things went really fast and sped up every year. Now we are at the stage where we have annual demonstrations by antifa and Dutch black panthers- no joke. Initially the majority of the Dutch didn’t pay much attention to Quincy and his lot, thinking they were fringe activists who always find something new to complain about. This attitude hasn’t changed much: this year a research showed that 93% of the Dutch that were interviewed were in favor of a traditional Pete. This is in line with researches done the past years where the percentage is always somewhere between 80-90% in favor. This may not sound surprising initially, but consider that there is a vast population of immigrants and leftist in the Netherlands- if you want to reach numbers like this, there must be a majority in favor among them as well.

The discussion is now spearheaded on both sides by the radicals. The antifa are in favor of removing zwarte piet and on the other side, the nationalists are trying to defend him. This makes it sometimes very uncomfortable for moderate Dutch, because they don’t really want to be associated with either. When push comes to shove though, they will still side with the ones they support the most, despite the association. With a vast majority in favor of keeping the traditional Pete, you’d figure this would be an easy battle. Think again.


The Netherlands is still ruled by a limp wristed political class that has no balls to stand for anything hardline, always afraid to alienate one side. The Dutch PM, a classical liberal, said that it was up to the people themselves to determine how they want to celebrate it and with what Pete. During the official arrivals of Sinterklaas, we see some municipalities choosing to not use traditional Petes, but invent new ones like color Petes, rainbow Petes, Syrup waffle Pete and, most prominently, soot Petes. Some municipalities choose to combine some of the new Petes with traditional Petes, hoping they satisfy everyone that way. I need not tell you that this has the opposite effect and it pisses both sides off equally. They usually do this after anti-Pete activists sent letters to the municipalities, conducted successful lobbying or announced a protest.

The attitude of the commerce isn’t much different to our government in most cases. Most big companies choose to remove black Pete all together or take some form of adapted Petes, in most cases they do it voluntarily without protest. Hema, a Dutch company that was founded by Jews, was one of the pioneers in this field. Hema was also one of the first Dutch stores that started to sell Muslim headscarf’s and abolished the use of the word “easter” and wishes everyone happy “spring festivities” instead. Their abolishing of Black Pete was reason for the Dutch movement of Zwart Front to protest against them in the past years, several buildings of the company got their share of posters and stickers before they opened their doors in the morning, a treatment given to more companies. Examples worth mentioning in this field are the Dutch grocery stores. The two major ones, Albert Heijn and Jumbo, seemed for some three years to alternate between who adopted black Pete and who didn’t. One year Zwart Front would call up for a boycott of Albert Heijn only to find out the year after that the printed material they produced the year before would be of no use. A complot has never been proven, but it is not unlikely.

One beacon of hope in this field are the small middle class shops that in many cases chose to keep the traditional Petes and put stuffed Petes and images of Pete in their window displays. This shows again the cowardice of the bigger companies: they are afraid to alienate a part of their customers. What they don’t seem to understand is that the vast majority is in favor: they are afraid to miss out on money, while they could go for the traditional Pete and actually make a lot of it, because they would be the only big store to side with tradition. This raises the suspicion that they are, like Hema, in favor of certain agendas, which would be anything but surprising.


The resistance to the change of black Pete comes in many forms. Most noticeable are of course the protests. It would be too much to name seven years of protest in this article, but to give you an idea of what has happened, here are some prime examples: every year during the arrival the anti-Pete demonstrators plan to go to the biggest event where national television is also present. At these arrivals there are hundreds of children with their parents present who just want to have a nice day, when suddenly a black uniformed mob of antifascists and black panthers show up who are jelling anti-pete slogans. The nationalists, supported in some cases by regular folk, decided that this won’t do and plan to either stop them on their way to the location, or confront them on the spot. In Gouda in 2014 the nationalists failed to stop the antifa on their way to the demonstration and they made it to the location. The result was a big mess where nationalists and parents tried to beat the antifa up and chase them off, with them fighting back. Eventually most of the antifa got arrested. In 2016 the antifa planned to go to Maassluis but the Mayor denied them entry last minute, meaning the busses on which they came had to turn around. They went to Rotterdam instead and got beaten up and arrested there by the police before they could even make a statement, all the while being chased by nationalists in cars.

A great example of a successful counter was 2017, when the major arrival was in Dokkum, a city in Frisia. The antifa arranged three buses from Amsterdam that were going to go to Dokkum. Preliminary there was already an action group that announced that they would block the Afsluitdijk to prevent them from entering Frisia. They got intimidated by the secret services and the police, so they announced they cancelled that plan. Despite that, when the three busses successfully crossed the Afsluitdijk and drove along the highway A7 they were suddenly stopped by cars and motors and had to break so hard one antifa (other sources say the driver) hit his head on the windscreen, cracking the screen. Regular Frisian folk had organized a roadblock despite the threats. The police broke off the roadblock after some time, after which the protestors were guided by the police. The mayor of Dokkum last minute forbids their entry. They missed their chances to spoil a nice festivity; the arrival in Dokkum went smoothly. Sadly, at the same time, there were about a hundred of their comrades demonstrating successfully in Rotterdam, barely hindered by anything. Ironically, they too blocked a road, despite their counterparts wanting to drag the Frisians to court for it.


Not all of the resistance takes place at the arrivals. In Nijmegen the antifa has a long tradition. They were already well established when in 1983 the Pierson riots broke out, the biggest riots the Netherlands has had in decades. The army was required to take care of the squatters, an interesting story that warrants its own article. In Nijmegen the anarchists rule the streets; they have a huge network and subculture and own multiple buildings, both squats and legalized squats. They leave their marks everywhere in the form of stickers, posters and graffiti. Ironically, many of them work as teachers on high schools or on universities, where they also recruit part of their new activists. They also have their contacts in the local government. This is very telling about their principles of opposition against authority and indoctrination. In 2016 they organized a speech by a well-known anti-pete activist, which was reason for a coalition of local nationalists and football supporters to team up and visit them. Even though just ten people showed up, this was unique, for decades the antifa had gone unhindered and could do what they wanted in Nijmegen, this was the first time someone really tried to disturb their activities. The coalition settled in front of the building, waving flags and yelling “I am not ashamed of black Pete”. The left wing reaction was one of violence and aggression, which was also written about in the media. In the end no one got hurt.

The year after was different. The antifa staged a meeting for parents that oppose black Pete. The nationalists came again, this time fewer in numbers. They carried a banner, flags and flyers. They wanted to peacefully hand the flyers over to the parents that were going to visit that evening. The antifa were prepared. When the nationalists arrived, there were twenty black block antifa waiting for them with iron bars. They pulled the hoody over one nationalist’s face and beat him mercilessly with the iron bar, sending him straight to the hospital. This is one of the examples where the conflict gets more violent and aggressive every year; there are more cases like this.

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